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Do you know all the words to the first verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner?”

Asked at Borders, 700 N.H. on September 14, 2005

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Photo of Jonathan Gardner

“I think I do, or I did at one time. I couldn’t think of them right now.”

Photo of Linda Champion

“No, but I can sing along when everyone else is singing.”

Photo of Louis Santiago

“Yes. I’ve had to sing it in some of the choirs I’ve been in. It’s just something you grow up with. You usually don’t think about it - you just sing it.”

Photo of Diane Ruder

“I can sing it with the music, but I can’t remember the words without it.”

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Jamesaust 12 years, 8 months ago

Oh yes, even some of the words from the other verses. But please don't think of me as avoiding my civic responsibility.

KsjKC 12 years, 8 months ago

Okay--This may seem to some like a toss-off question but it isn't to me, for what it's worth... I'm only 40--and to those 20-somethings who say "only" in that mocking tone, remind me to slap the taste out of your mouth later on--;) ....But I digress...and here comes my point, finally:

I'm only 40--and for better or worse I am a product of Lawrence schools. I know all the words to the National Anthem and I also know how to write in cursive; not that half-written, half-printed schlock they teach now in an effort to make it easier....

I'm a pretty liberal iconoclastic kinda guy--But I say: Why do we make things so easy on kids? Why don't they learn those "old-fashioned" things like the words to the National Anthem and why can't we remember them now?

Why, I remember when I was a kid, we never had it as easy as you upstarts. Why, back in the winter of '76...

Ooops. My nurse is here. Time for my meds and then back to Matlock...

Jayhawk226 12 years, 8 months ago

During my sophomore year in high school, I was invited to sing the national anthem during our high school rival basketball game against Proviso East in Maywood, IL (where Dee Brown graduated from)...

...yeah, I forgot the darn words because my tempo was too slow.

I didn't know how to stop at that point, so I looked down and said, "ladies and gentlemen, sorry but I cannot go on."

I walked to the bleachers, kicked them and tears instantly came rolling down...I felt like that was the most patriotic thing I could be invited to do and I CHOKED big time.

Only relief was when one of my good friends, a senior on the team, yelled real loud in the silent fieldhouse...."that's alright man, you got bigger ^@$!& than all of his here!"

At least that kinda made me smile....

Jayhawk226 12 years, 8 months ago

Too much is given to all of us in America....I agree even_money.

KsjKC 12 years, 8 months ago

That's a great story...besides the fact that it's heart-wrenching...

I was a voice minor at good ole KU--I can't think of how many times it was said that the National Anthem is the absolutely hardest thing to sing in performance because of the octave jump and the fact that jumping an octave to sing on a "closed vowel" is vocal suicide...

They were right--You did have big #%@#&...Not that I looked, but I hear things...

KsjKC 12 years, 8 months ago

Civic Responsibility was outsold by the Honda Civic...?

I agree with even_money, which more or less explains my being a forum whore...We should just KNOW this stuff...

You think Mr. Santiago --- up there in the quote and photo array --- is native-born or was this something that was just made made to be more important because of what it meant to him?

Peter Jennings--Canadian born and naturalized an American citizen just a few years before his death, carried a pocket copy of the Constitution...

Maybe when something is just given to you it lacks importance?

jayhawk2000 12 years, 8 months ago

Not only do most people not know the words to Star Spangled Banner, but I recall another survey showing a significant number of citizens who believed America the Beautiful is our national anthem. I know which I prefer. The melody to the anthem is impossible and the words just don't go with the music very well. And Whitney Houston trashed it with her grandstanding.

Throughout grade school in SEK in the 1980s we learnt both those songs, plus My Country Tis of Thee and Grand Old Flag. I may not know all the words these days (for some reason I try to end Grand Old Flag with bits from Auld Lang Syne), but at least I can hum along convincingly.

Everytime I hear God Save the Queen on TV here in England I irk everyone else in the room by singing the American words instead. I do like the fact that most patriotic American songs are about the land itself or symbols of its people and not its leaders!

craigers 12 years, 8 months ago

Yes I do know all of the words and if I wasn't at work I would sing it for all of you and then those who wanted can sing along. That would be creepy to hear others in my office building singing along. I thought the Star Spangled Banner was the National anthem so if you know one wouldn't you have to know the other?

I completely agree about things just being given to kids these days. I know people are going to look at me like a jerk when I make my kid work for a living to pay for their gas and some of their extra curricular activities. Am I wrong for wanting them to do the same thing that I had to do as a kid?

KsjKC 12 years, 8 months ago


No--Not up to a point...I'm glad my kids have been able to do their homework faster with the aid of a PC--but I also think getting up to change the channel would almost certainly not kill them...:--)

I'm glad my sons have the advantages that have been given to us by technology, but I would be deeply concerned if they were totally ignorant of some just very basic patriotism...

I'm not a jingoist--But I strongly believe our kids are being poorly served by not knowing and embracing some of the things that were stressed more when we were kids...

KsjKC 12 years, 8 months ago


Whitney Houston called...she's least we think so; it could be the methadone...

I agree--Having said that: Jimi Hendrix's instrumental version is a "new" American classic...

average 12 years, 8 months ago

Yes. And, if I get a rolling start I can get through the last verse, too.

But, if I were to choose an anthem, it would be "This Land is Your Land".

nlf78 12 years, 8 months ago

I learned it in Junior High and STILL remember all the words. OMB-I can't stand it when people screw up the National Anthem. And I haven't heard ONE musician lately who can just sing the National Anthem. They have to twist it and turn it into something HORRIBLE!!

Dani Davey 12 years, 8 months ago

I, like Peter Jennings, carry a pocket copy of the Constitution. I, however, am a natural born American.

And I guess to answer the real question, yes, I know the words to the Star-Spangled banner, but for some reason not as well as I remember the school song for my elementary school...

GreenEyedBlues 12 years, 8 months ago


Of course I know the words to the Anthem! I'm an All*American Choir Boy! I took the baritone section in high school. I loved singing America the Beautiful... there was an acapella section that made me CRY every time!

Oh beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife Who more than self their country loved, And mercy more than life, America America may god thy gold refine May all success be nobleness And ev'ry gain divine!

My choir director, good ol' Mr. diZerega was a big stickler for diction and pronunciation!

Aahh-Mayr-ri-Cah NOT Uh-Meyr-I-CUuuhh

laughingatallofu 12 years, 8 months ago

In the movie "Super-size Me", visitors to the White House were asked to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Most of them couldn't. However, when asked to recite the jingle for the Big Mac (Two all-beef patties, special sauce, etc...) they had no problem.

It's all about marketing.

KU figured that out when they spent $90,000 to design a new logo that everyone hates.

Linda Aikins 12 years, 8 months ago

Is that the one where we sing to the guy named Jose on the flagpole?

GreenEyedBlues 12 years, 8 months ago

I thought it was crazy how kids couldn't recognize a picture of Jesus but everyone knew Ronald McDonald instantly. Why, when I was a young'n, Granny had a picture of the Sacred Heart every 3 feet.

laughingatallofu 12 years, 8 months ago

You meant to say "an artist's rendition of Jesus", didn't you? Didn't tknow that they had digital cameras in Galilee in 30 A.D. (Unless one was recently un-earthed by archeologists and I didn't see it in the LJW.)

beatrice 12 years, 8 months ago

Yes, I know the words. "Jose, can you see ..." Does that make me more patriotic than someone who does not? I guarantee you more people know the McDonald's Big Mac song. It is just a matter of repetition.

I also know all the words to "White Punks on Dope" by the Tubes and The Clash's "Know Your Rights." I even know "God Save the Queen," only it is the version by the Sex Pistols.

GreenEyedBlues 12 years, 8 months ago

Oh har har har. That's what I meant, L@AoU

rhd99 12 years, 8 months ago

Oh, yes, do I know the words to out national anthem. Jayhawk, I like your story about forgetting the words because of your tempo when you sang. You showed lots of courage. You still have a heart. Be proud of that. I never sang the anthem in front of a big crowd. So, you have a leg up on me & many others.

GreenEyedBlues 12 years, 8 months ago

If you've ever been to a Catholic church, it's all about going through the motions and mumbling along with the others.

sunflower_sue 12 years, 8 months ago

GEB, I love Sunday Brunch!!!

As for the anthem: Of course! I know every word.

Thanks to my grade school music teacher, I can also say all 50 states in alphabetical order in less than 25 can my sister. My kids can also recite them but they have to sing the tune.

I can also recite Romeo and Juliet from: "Romeo, Oh, Romeo....(through).........would smell as sweet." All while standing on my head! (And YDP thought I didn't have any talents.)

TOB, The only time I mumble during the Lord's Prayer is when I'm in a church that I'm not familiar with and I don't know if they are going to say "debtors" or "tresspassers". In my church growing up it was "debtors." So anything else seems weird to me.

captain_poindexter 12 years, 8 months ago

I love the fact that the "teaching counselor" at the top doesn't know the first verse of the star spangled banner.


Linda Aikins 12 years, 8 months ago

Check out these things I memorized---

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Even though the sound of it Is something quite atrocious If you say it loud enough You'll always sound precocious Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!


Crest has been shown to be an effective decay-preventive dentifrice that can be of significant value when used in a conscientiously-applied program of oral hygiene and regular professional care.

trinity 12 years, 8 months ago

i'm from an era in which learning the natl' anthem was pretty much a requirement; along with daily mumbling in mass. not mass street, mass media, mass marketing but as in the good ol' days when we catholic schooled kidlets had to go to church every gol-blame morning! sigh i could diagram a sentence in the third grade, too...

maybe that 'splains my command of the english language as well as my deep spiritual(note; spiritual not religious)nature!

i'm glad i know these things.

sunflower_sue 12 years, 8 months ago

TOB, I took no offense! I pretty much agree with what you said.

Gootsie, You forgot "Umdiddlediddlediddle Umdiddle I"

OMB, (10:35 post) You poor thing! My heartfelt sympathies.

harrierist 12 years, 8 months ago

I remember watching that Vietnam movie regarding the escape from Saigon and the South Vietnamese doctor who could not get out, but had made friends with an American journalist. The Journalist never gave up on trying to find him. But the Doctor was captured by North Vietnamese Communist Pol Pot's soldiers and he was forced to work in rice fields and was a prisoner (visually it shows some brutal scenes). But at the end he finally esacapes and as he is running he runs over this hill and in the valley below he sees the American Flag and a camp, and begins crying and runs down the hill to freedom. When you see the scene your eyes do well-up and you do want to start humming the Star Spangled Banner. The movie makes you think how powerfull that symbol and the Anthem is.

GreenEyedBlues 12 years, 8 months ago

Because I was afraid to speak when I was just a lad Me father gave me nose a tweak n' told me I was bad But then one day I found a word that saved me achin' nose The biggest word you've ever heard and this is how it goes:

acg 12 years, 8 months ago

Of course I know the SSB. I feel bad for those that don't. But, do ya'll remember the preamble to the Constitution, without looking it up? I can remember my 9th grade civics teacher made us all memorize it and we had to recite it in front of the class, as well as the first paragraph to the Gettysburg Address, and I still remember them, crazy enough. I can't remember where I put my keys most of the time, but I can remember that stuff.

Jayhawk226 12 years, 8 months ago

Hey I posted earlier about going blank in the middle of the national anthem, before about 4 thousand people at a high school basketball game.

It's amazing how you can sing the words over-and-over again, and yet, something about performing that song live in front of others,when all eyes are on you....

...poof! Mind just goes numb.

Still one of my biggest regrets to this day and I'm PETRIFIED to even try to redeem myself now.

enochville 12 years, 8 months ago

Yes, I know all the words. I was waiting for the discussion to go on a tangent so that we would have something to actually discuss, and we seem to be talking about patriotism and how today's kids don't know their civics.

Please don't speak poorly about the younger generation. They are a product of their times just as we are. If a majority of a generation doesn't know something, it is because they were never taught. Blame the curriculum requirements, not the kids.

Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the older generation to share their knowledge with the younger generation in areas where you find their knowledge is lacking. But, to get them to listen, it all comes down to your approach. People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. This requires time and emotional investment. And to get them to spend time with you, offer them opportunities to do things that they normally would be unable to do. Parents and grandparents can take kids on trips to historical places, markers, or museums. You can tie driving priviledges to learning basic car maintenance or repairs with you on a Saturday afternoon.

I encourage the older generation to bridge the generation gap. You have more experience and maturity to take the leadership role in figuring out how to make the relationship work. Don't think that you have nothing to offer youth that they would be interested in. Link the youth's access to your resources (money, transportation, gifts, etc) to them learning something from you, whether it be cooking skills, gardening, home repair, or whatever.

Another good idea is to set aside one night a week as family night in which family members take turns presenting a short lesson and then you do some fun activity together like playing board games, going bowling or skating, and share a dessert. I know that I'll be mocked for this suggestion as being naive and idealistic, but let me tell you many families in my church do this every week. Is it hard to get the family together for it? You bet it is. Do the teenagers not want to participate? Quite often they don't want to. But, those families are blessed for their efforts. And their kids often turn out a little better prepared for life and they know their parents care for them.

enochville 12 years, 8 months ago

sunflower_sue: I can say the fifty states in under 25 seconds as well. Could the song you are talking about be "Fifty Nifty United States"?

sunflower_sue 12 years, 8 months ago

enoch, you got it! (I think that song should be required in all gradeschools.)

acg, I'm afraid my version of the Preamble is the one they used to sing on "School House Rocks".

Gootsie, Well done!

laughingatallofu 12 years, 8 months ago

What's the big deal about saying the 50 states in alphabetical order in under 25 seconds? That's as sophomoric as the fraternities making their pledges learn the Greek alphabet (forwards and backwards) so that they don't waste their time studying the things that they (supposedly) went to college for in the first place.

Oh, I guess you get the satisfaction out of it by saying " Because I could".

Bill Clinton said the same thing when asked why he "did not have sex with" Monica.

Farmers_Daughter 12 years, 8 months ago

We had a really tough Senior History teacher in HS, to pass his class (AND to graduate!) we had to know all the presidents, their parties, terms, and either wife or VP(alternating class years); had to put all 50 states on a map with their capitols, major rivers and lakes; write out the preamble, Gettysburg address, and beginning of the Declaration of Independence; and know the SSB as well as the school song. Watching cheerleaders gesture while writing the school song was hilarious, and most of the class still could recite ALL OF THIS at our 20 year reunion. He was tough, but since he had taught most of our parents also there was no pity from anyone...

Jayhawk226 12 years, 8 months ago

I wonder what percentage of all those students who recited all those tidbits of information can actually explain and analzye them in full detail.

The more we know, the less we know...

Linda Aikins 12 years, 8 months ago

Sue and GEB - good job you two! Julia Andrews rocked!

TOB - . I think LAAOU gets their panties in a bunch quite easily. And I have issues with si too short.

Jayhawk226 - now is the time to quelch that fear. You may "sing" it to us here. We are your friends. And we are anonymous. Go for it!

I don't know the nifty fifty or the Highwayman song. I feel so silly.

Confrontation 12 years, 8 months ago

captain_poindexter: I'm pretty sure the "teaching counselor" pictured above is working with CLO(Community Living Opportunities) clients (those with severe mental illness). For some reason they call them teaching counselors. I've worked for them, and for some reason all I remember is getting bruised and really embarassed in public places. I doubt that this "teaching counselor" would benefit from knowing the national anthem. He'd be better off learning Tae Kwon Do.

Confrontation 12 years, 8 months ago

I had to learn the Star Spangled Banner in my high school government class. We had to be able to both speak it and write it (with correct punctuation). That was less than 15 years ago. I think this should be a requirement. It'll give kids something decent to learn, rather than the words to the newest 50 Cent or Greenday song.

Jayhawk226 12 years, 8 months ago


I still have stagefright!! ; )

beatrice 12 years, 8 months ago

Just curious -- Speaking of generation gaps, how many of you remember having to "duck and cover" in school?

As a kid I would always botch it when I tried the "Nifty Fifty" under 25, so I admire those who can!

acg 12 years, 8 months ago

Duck and cover is a bit before my time but I can remember being spanked in grade school....a whole lot. But then I was a hethen child sent from the devil to make public school personnel insane.

nomorebobsplease 12 years, 8 months ago

My kids know the correct words (10 & 8) and we have even taken the time to dissect the song and discuss what it means. Also studied the Gettysburg address and the Declaration of Independence is next on our list. The kids have not been too bored with it yet...

Jayhawk226 12 years, 8 months ago

I wonder if President Bush knows all 50 states...?

(OK low blow, I hate reading people's jabs at the President on these posts, but I couldn't resist)

Jayhawk226 12 years, 8 months ago

Thank you TOB....I was waiting for somebody to really snap on me.

; )

staff04 12 years, 8 months ago

Okay, I've been laying off the President bashing, but since the issue is on the table, I'd like to share something I found on the glorious internet the other day. Unfortunately, it wasn't credited when I found it, so I can't credit whoever the smarty-pants is that wrote it. Even if you are the most die-hard, lover o' th' President, this is still pretty funny.

The Twenty-Third Qualm

Bush is my shepherd; I dwell in want. He maketh logs to be cut down in national forests. He leadeth trucks into the still wilderness. He restoreth my fears. He leadeth me in the path of international disgrace for his ego's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of pollution and war, I will find no exit, for thou art in office. Thy tax cuts for the rich and thy media control, they discomfort me. Thou preparest an agenda of deception in the presence of thy religion. Thou anointest my head with foreign oil. My health insurance runneth out. Surely megalomania and false patriotism shall follow me all the days of thy term, and my jobless child shall dwell in my basement forever.

enochville 12 years, 8 months ago

Jayhawk226: Although I agree that there is a big difference between being able to recite something that was rote memorized, and being able to utilize and apply a deep understanding of the material, I tend to find that those who have gone through the trouble to memorize a passage, poem, verse or document are able to speak more fluently about its meaning and application than those who have not perhaps because they have had to concentrate of every word.

This effect does not often hold true for memorization of facts or pairs of items. I think a complete education includes a mixture of both memorization and deep conceptual understanding of the material.

heretoday 12 years, 8 months ago

TOB, yah, i remember around a year ago some attention-craving wackjob made a big deal about children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in school because it had the words "one nation under god" in it. "god" in America means any "god" you worship. I just feel bad for this little girl who is being torn between the government and the bad judgement of her father.

beatrice 12 years, 8 months ago

Honest questions -- Do kids still say the pledge in school? Do courts still have people swear in with a hand on the Bible under the phrase "so help me God"? I don't have kids and haven't been to court in a long time, so I honestly don't know.

For anyone wanting prayer back in school, rest assured that it never went away. As long as there are tests and quizzes, there will always be prayer in school.

Linda Aikins 12 years, 8 months ago

Aw come on J226 - we will be right here beside you. You can do it!

raven 12 years, 8 months ago

I know all the words to the SSB, I also know the Fifty Nifty United States, but I have never timed myself. Maybe I will do that today.

I also have the first page of the Canterbury Tales memorized. I had to do that for a Sr. English class in high school. It stuck with me.

trinity 12 years, 8 months ago

bea-here where i work people are sworn in with the following:

"do you swear that the testimony you are about to give is the whole truth and nothing but the truth?"

but i do still hear different judges add the "so help me God"

sunflower_sue 12 years, 8 months ago

bea, my kids (Tongie) still say the pledge every morning at school. And, yes, I remember the "duck and cover."

Raven, isn't it funny what sticks with you? I memorized my passage from "Romeo and Juliet" when I was 15 for extra credit in English class. That was a LONG time ago. (But in class I was not required to do it while standing on my head...that's just my "stock trick" when I have to come up with some wacky talent at a party or something.)

See, LAAOU, this stuff comes in handy...don't dog it! Listen to Gootsie : "life is short." (And I would add: "find joy where you can.")

Columbine 12 years, 8 months ago

Even though this has nothing to do with the original question, since it was brought up I am replying to it. I find it very odd that people swear on the Bible or use the phrase "so help me God" when it definitely says in the Bible not to. Now I know you can interpret the Bible any way you want to, but this seems pretty straight forward.

Matthew 5:33 "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' 34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (King James Version)

Any thoughts on this?

KsjKC 12 years, 8 months ago


I went to LHS and I had some friends--Girls I was really stuck on--and they went to school in Eudora...One night we were going somewhere all together and the two girls were talking about having to memorize Chaucer and ended up doing the first page of Canterbury Tales in perfect unison...

Being 17 and incredibly hormonal, I thought it was hot...Granted, that made me pathetic--but maybe if we use that as an incentive for learning...;) Smart girls are hot..;)

heretoday 12 years, 8 months ago

TOB, I did see a brief segment on the news today about the ruling but I remembered it and the last I heard till you mentioned it was from a year ago. And what a day for it to present itself... I was scared that the "God" question was going to spur some controversy on our blogs but it seems everyone has tamed down a bit after the nail biting over the Bush-blame-fest.

heretoday 12 years, 8 months ago

I am sure that today's derailment of topic on the pledge is going to be tomorrows or the next days on the street question. (after confirmation on the hearing) It gives us much to think about. ie..taking God out of currency, historical backgrounds, how we interpret the 1st amendment....

KsjKC 12 years, 8 months ago

This is something that's going to get tossed around and there's going to be a lot of name-calling and accusations and blame...

...Not as an act of self-preservation, but more to state the realities of the situation. Speaking as a liberal, there are many of us bothered by the need to remove God from the foundations the framers of the Constitution tried to build...When we legislate thought and self-expression we disregard and disrespect what this nation was supposed to be...

jonas 12 years, 8 months ago

Nope, but I was able to play Jimi's version on the guitar pretty much all the way through. Feedback wasn't the same, but what can I say, I don't have a Marshall stack or 12 to play through.

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